Category Archives: The Moon

Another Moonwalker Gone: Apollo 14 Astronaut Ed Mitchell Has Died at 85

Edgar Mitchell poses next to the U.S. flag on the Moon during Apollo 14, Feb. 1971 (NASA)

Edgar Mitchell poses next to the U.S. flag on the Moon during Apollo 14, Feb. 1971 (NASA)

The world has lost one of its special treasures: retired Navy captain and former NASA astronaut Edgar D. Mitchell, LM pilot for Apollo 14 and one of the 12 men who walked on the Moon, died on the evening of Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016 at the age of 85.

His passing brings the number of humans alive who have stood on the surface of another world down to 7 and, as of Feb. 4, none of them from Apollo 14.
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It’s Been 50 Years Since We First Got Pictures From the Moon

One of the first images from the surface of the Moon returned by Luna 9 on Feb. 4, 1966.

One of the first images from the surface of the Moon returned by Luna 9 on Feb. 4, 1966. Credit: Roscomos

What a difference half a century makes! This week marks 50 years since the Soviet Luna 9 spacecraft made humanity’s first-ever soft landing on the surface of the Moon. Launched from Baikonur on Jan. 31, 1966, the Luna 9 lander touched down within Oceanus Procellarum at 18:44:52 UTC on Feb. 3. Over the following three days Luna 9 sent us our first views of the Moon’s surface from the surface and, perhaps even more importantly, confirmed to scientists that a landing by spacecraft was indeed possible (which, by the way, was achieved on this day in 1971 by Al Shepard and Ed Mitchell with Apollo 14.)

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NASA’s First Fallen: Remembering the Tragedy of Apollo 1

This is a reprint of a post from 2013, updated for the 2016 date.
Apollo 1 astronauts Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom, Edward H. White II and Roger B. Chaffee in front of Launch Complex 34 at Kennedy Space Center on January 17, 1967 (NASA/KSC)

Apollo 1 astronauts Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, Edward H. White II and Roger B. Chaffee in front of Launch Complex 34 at Kennedy Space Center on January 17, 1967 (NASA/KSC)

Today marks the 49th anniversary of one of the worst tragedies to befall NASA and human spaceflight: the fire that broke out in the Apollo 204 (later renamed Apollo 1) command module during a test exercise at Kennedy Space Center in 1967, claiming the lives of primary crew astronauts Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee.

While it’s certainly not a pleasant thing to think upon, the Apollo 1 catastrophe had an undeniable impact on NASA’s Moon mission. Although it resulted in the death of three talented young men in the prime of their careers it forced NASA’s engineers to redesign the Apollo spacecraft with more safety in mind which, ultimately, contributed to the success of the entire program. Without these redesigns the Moon landings might not have occurred just a couple of years later. Despite the horror of what happened on Jan. 27, 1967, Grissom, White, and Chaffee’s tragic deaths were not in vain.

The following is a full account of the Apollo 1 fire, as told on the NASA history site.

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Is This New Picture of Earth From the Moon for Real? Yes, Yes It Is.

An "Earthrise" over Compton crater as imaged by LRO on Oct. 12, 2015. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

An “Earthrise” over Compton crater as imaged by LRO on Oct. 12, 2015. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

Today NASA released an amazing image of Earth taken from the Moon — specifically from lunar orbit by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been studying our Moon since the summer of 2009. In it our planet appears as an incredibly bright blue globe with swashes of white clouds and Africa and northeastern South America clearly visible beyond the rolling grey hills of the Moon. It’s so clear and perfect it almost doesn’t look real — so is it?

Why yes. Yes it is. (But of course there was a little help needed from the LROC imaging teams at Arizona State University and Goddard Space Flight Center!)

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Long-Lost Impact Site Found From Apollo 16 Rocket Stage

Apollo16 SIVB crater

The impact crater from the Apollo 16 third stage has been found in LROC data by JHUAPL researcher Jeff Plescia (Image: NASA/GSFC/ASU)

In April of 1972 the penultimate Apollo mission sent NASA astronauts John Young and Charles Duke to the surface of the Moon, with Ken Mattingly piloting the command module Casper in lunar orbit. After launch on April 16, the Apollo 16 craft and crew completed two orbits of Earth before burning the J-2 engine of the Saturn V’s third stage, the S-IVB (“S four B”), sending the crew off to the Moon.

AS07-03-1544

The Apollo 7 S-IVB photographed before rendezvous in Earth orbit over Cape Canaveral, Oct. 11, 1968 (NASA)

Following the CSM and LM separation and TLI the spent S-IVB third stage continued along its course for a planned impact of the lunar surface. This was done as part of seismic experiments which collected data on lunar geology via surface instruments set up during previous missions. The 12-ton Apollo 16 rocket stage struck the Moon on April 19, a day and a half before the LM Orion touched down in the Descartes Highlands. But because the tracking signal was lost before impact it’s never been known exactly where the Apollo 16 S-IVB impact site was located.

That is, until now. After 43 years, one researcher at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory has identified the crater left by the Apollo 16 third stage in image data gathered by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Read more on the Inside Outer Space blog by Leonard David.

Why Do People Say the Moon is Made of Green Cheese?

Green Moon

As far as I know none of the Apollo missions included bringing a cheese grater…

So this isn’t about a scientific discovery by any means, but I did do a little bit of online research to discern the origin of the old expression that the Moon is “made of green cheese.” We’ve all heard it, and though I’m pretty sure that nobody has ever actually taken it as a fact (although when it concerns the Moon there never seems to be any shortage of crazy theories) I had to wonder just where it came from.

As it turns out, it’s the curiously uncanny remnant of a bit of snark that dates back to at least the 16th century — long before Apollo, spectroscopy, or even the first telescope.

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